Plan for mall libraries to attract more readers
Push for convenient location to draw library users
Opening public libraries near shopping malls and almost doubling their size are among the key recommendations put forward by a committee set up by the Home Affairs Bureau in 2001 to review library services.
The committee has rejected the concept of privatising library operations, even though doing so would lead to savings of about 18 per cent, and it wants to see libraries grow in size from the existing minimum of 3,500 square metres to 6,000 square metres. The revamp would also introduce regular reviews of the content of libraries' collections.
The proposals, all of which have been accepted by the bureau, include the establishment of a board to advise the government on the role and work of the Hong Kong Central Library, with the aim of increasing accountability and community participation. The operation of district libraries will remain in the hands of district councils.
The proposals are listed in a report by the committee to be discussed by legislators today.
The report has received a mixed reception, with some commentators describing it as a step in the right direction, but one dismissing it as 'nonsense'.
Caritas, which is among the non-profit groups that run community libraries in collaboration with the government, said it was a good start. 'I believe this is the right direction of developing our public library services,' Caritas social worker Raymond Fung Hing-kau said.
'I think community libraries can greatly help to cultivate people's interest in reading. In our community libraries, readers are more interactive, as they often sit in small groups.'
At the end of 2005, the government established the Community Libraries Partnership Scheme, under which 28 community libraries had been set up by April this year.
Mr Fung said the geographical mobility of libraries was an important issue in library development.
But social commentator Mathias Woo Yan-wai said turning all libraries into commercial operations was the only way forward. 'These recommendations are nonsense,' he said. 'I don't think any of them can improve our library services. As long as they are under a bureaucratic structure, we will still lag behind others.'
Mr Woo said library services and collections were not up to international standards, even with more than 11.9 million books and multimedia materials in the libraries. 'The service and collections are not comprehensive,' he said. 'There are not enough internet stations.'
He said a formal, commercial board would be a better management model than the advisory board, which the paper says will be set up in three or four months.
The senior academic adviser of library studies at Baptist University's school of continuing education, Grace Woo Yuen-ying, welcomed the recommendations. 'But the core issue is how to get people to make use of our public libraries,' she said. 'It may be true that people find it convenient when a library is located next to a mall, but the results may be no different if people don't walk in.'
The paper cites Tin Shui Wai North Public Library beside the Tin Chak Shopping Centre as an example of a library in a convenient location.
Going by the book
The report's recommendations:
Increase the size of libraries
Review new libraries? space every five years
Locate libraries next to shopping malls
Regularly review collections
Set up community libraries with NGOs
Replace library automation system with radio frequency identification
SOURCE: HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE ON LIBRARIES
Number of permanent libraries 66
Number of mobile library vans 10
Number of books and multimedia materials 11.9m
Number of registered library users 3.4m
Average number of books and materials checked out each year 61m